When Carolina Vasquez-Lazo was growing up, she found it difficult to not see herself or many other people of colour represented in the media. But now, as a young photographer, she is trying to change that lack of diversity, while sharing her personal experience with trauma to help others.
“Being a person of colour is hard,” Vasquez-Lazo explains, noting that the feeling of not being represented in the media is alienating and isolating.
“The stuff that I grew up watching was so much of, well, not me,” Vasquez-Lazo recalls. “It was so hard to see myself, my friends and my family (not) represented.”
Vasquez-Lazo’s family comes from El Salvador and as a first-generation Canadian, she values the strong sense of culture within her household. She believes her culture has influenced the type of art she creates.
Within her work, Vasquez-Lazo uses people, extreme close-ups and vibrant colour schemes to share her personal narrative.
Additionally, her portraits often feature herself, her friends and her family members
Vasquez-Lazo is not the only artist who believes in the importance of equal representation in media. Montana Finn, a photographer who is working on her bachelor of design degree at the Alberta University of the Arts alongside Vasquez-Lazo, agrees.
“It made me more comfortable to see somebody else like me — a woman of colour — making things like that,” says Finn, describing the body of Vasquez-Lazo’s work.
“It’s inspired me so much to push myself.”
Finn also feels a close connection to Vasquez-Lazo’s ability to explore her personal struggles through her imagery.
Carolina Vasquez-Lazo is all smiles when it comes to sharing her artwork. Photo by: Lily Dupuis
“It’s so easy to push down your feelings,” Finn explains. “It’s been so awesome to see her use her artwork as a way of letting people in on her personal experiences. People can relate to them and they appreciate that.”
Transforming difficult subject matter into something beautiful is the foundational concept of Vasquez-Lazo’s art.
“I’ve been making a lot of stuff that, at face-value, is maybe very aesthetic to the viewer,” says Vasquez-Lazo. “Once you read my artist statement, or hear me explain the work, you start to see that there are layers and dimensions to the photograph.”
Vasquez-Lazo also explores themes of substance abuse, family conflict and mental health issues, making her work deeply intimate and emotional.
A lot of people don’t even realize that my past is my past,” Vasquez-Lazo explains. “It’s definitely a part of me that people don’t see every day.”
Sharing her personal struggles with others is important to Vasquez-Lazo. She believes it creates a safe space where people can address their personal trauma and destigmatize its effects.
She describes her style of photography as conceptual and multi-faceted. Her imagery intends to blur the line between fine art and design.
Vasquez-Lazo explains the intensity and meaning of her work gradually develops as the audience takes time to explore each element of the photo. She doesn’t want her imagery to be too heavy upon first glance.
The emotional dimensions of Vasquez-Lazo’s work reinforce her belief in the importance of coping with adversity and deepening relationships with others. Vasquez-Lazo wants her work to create conversations that destigmatize intergenerational trauma and connect people who share similar hardships.
“Now that I’m older, I’m starting to use [photography] as a means of working through my trauma, and it’s almost therapy,” says Vasquez-Lazo.
Carolina Vasquez-Lazo in a studio. Photo by: Lily Dupuis
“It’s definitely helpful because, once you’re done the project, you’re like, ‘Ah, yes, it’s all good. We can talk about it now.’”
Commercial photographer, John Gaucher, believes that Vasquez-Lazo’s work creates a very personal experience for the viewer. He explains that her work is just as technically proficient as it is creative and open-minded.
“She’s so strong in terms of being able to create narrative in her imagery,” says Gaucher. “Young women are finding their voice in a lot of different artistic ways and that’s a nice thing to see.”
Gaucher emphasizes the importance of young photographers being able to find a balance between not only the technical aspects of photography but the creative side of it as well.
Overall, Vasquez-Lazo’s work sets an example for creators everywhere by acting as a catalyst in starting conversations about trauma to unify people from all walks of life.
Moving forward, Vasquez-Lazo intends to further break the mould for young artists. She hopes the future of photography will be sculpted by people of colour who are willing to share their own personal experiences in order to pave the way for inclusivity and acceptance.
- By Lily Dupuis